Empowering communities through #SocialGood

by Debbie Sy

The private sector plays a vital role in the Philippine economic growth. It generates more jobs and contributes to the country's gross domestic product (GDP). It is also considered a driving force for inclusive and sustainable development in the country as more businesses employ corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives in addressing environmental and social concerns within the place they operate.

A business can flourish by helping improve the quality of life of the individuals in these host communities. As a result, CSR has become a key pillar of successful business management. SM's visionary founder, Henry "Tatang" Sy, Sr., said that social development and investment go hand in hand with business growth to achieve a better future.

The SM group has embraced the responsibility to contribute to nation-building through its good social arm, the SM Foundation, Inc. (SMFI). For about four decades, it focused its resources, time, and reach to ensure that it can create opportunities wherever SM is present through good social programs geared towards quality education, sustainable agriculture, healthcare, and disaster response.

Anchored on Tatang's belief that education is the greatest equalizer, SMFI established the SM Scholarship Program in 1993. Its main aim is to provide the youth with access to quality tertiary and vocational education. Through the scholarship grants, it believes that SM will be able to contribute to eradicating the intergenerational poverty cycle by granting scholarships to economically challenged but deserving students. In addition, and to complement this and, more importantly, to address the challenges our public school system faces, SMFI, together with good social partners such as SM Prime, the foundation has provided school buildings equipped with critical facilities and equipment to underserved areas.

Another good social pillar of SMFI is sustainable agriculture, which aims to address the dilemma of the aging farmer population in the country and the growing gap between supply and demand for local food sources. In 2007, the foundation launched the Kabalikat sa Kabuhayan (KSK) program to bring modern and sustainable farming skills and linkages in rural and urban communities, empowering farmers to have food on their table and creating market linkage with economic opportunities.

Accessible healthcare and timely disaster response are also at the heart of the foundation's advocacy. Through its Health and Wellness program, SMFI helps address the country's shortage of quality healthcare facilities by constructing and upgrading health centers in host communities supplemented by medical mission activities nationwide. The Operation Tulong Express (OPTE), on the other hand, gives immediate assistance in the form of relief goods and medical services in collaboration with SM Supermalls and SM Markets to communities affected by calamities and disasters that frequently occur in the country.

During the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, SMFI was one of the first organizations to assume an active role in assisting in the pandemic response by expanding the reach and impact of the Health and Wellness program and utilizing its partnerships to extend a helping hand to frontliners and Filipinos nationwide, especially those in SM host communities.

Through these good social programs, we continuously aspire to be a development partner for our host communities and serve as a model for other organizations to bring social development, especially in areas where they operate.

Implementing CSR involves a dynamic learning process given that social and environmental good are moving targets – and these cannot be fully achieved through one-time activities and decisions. Instead, companies should view CSR as a continuous improvement process that involves constantly alerting new issues and considerations, which can be achieved through consistent community consultation and engagement.

And contrary to the notion that CSR is only an approach for large corporations and multi-national businesses, small and medium-scale enterprises can also have the means to benefit their respective communities in their ways. They are more likely to facilitate local-level CSR programs effectively as they are more deeply embedded in their communities. Examples include sourcing raw materials from community-based suppliers, matching and encouraging charitable work by employees, and even as simple as going paperless in their daily business operations.

CSR programs, no matter the size or scale, are valuable to the communities they serve because of their pivotal role in promoting sustainable, just, and balanced development and addressing social and environmental challenges.